Boycotting the Boycotters

Here is an extended version of the article that appeared in The Jewish Press.

Boycotting the Boycotters
by Marc Gronich

Countries and companies that support politically-motivated acts of boycott, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel should not expect a friendly reception when seeking business from New York state, according to the leadership of the state government.

Leading the charge of the anti-BDS movement is Governor Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Last month Cuomo signed an Executive Order, “directing state entities to divest all public funds supporting the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.”

This “will ensure that no state agency or authority engages in or promotes any investment activity that would further the harmful and discriminatory Palestinian-backed Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign in New York state,” the order states.

Cuomo’s office sums up the 11-year BDS debate by stating, “In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. The movement is coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee. By eroding confidence in Israel’s legitimacy, the BDS campaign is intended to inflict economic harm, or limit commercial relations, and ultimately weaken or undermine the State of Israel.”

Assemblyman Phillip Steck (D – Colonie, Albany County), a Jewish lawmaker, says he is opposed to the governor’s Executive Order. “I voted for the resolution opposing BDS in the Assembly.”

Steck said during an appearance on The Jewish View, a television program taped in Albany. “But the idea that government cannot do business with people who support BDS is absolutely 110 percent unconstitutional; it’s a violation of the first amendment. The case law goes on for 100 years, the government cannot distinguish between people because of their point of view and who gets government contracts. Whatever my religious position is, whatever my political position is … we don’t administer tests to people to determine what their views are on racial equality when they bid for government construction jobs so it’s the same thing here.”

Steck, a first amendment attorney, emphasized he does not agree with the BDS movement.

“I told the BDS folks that I feel under present circumstances more is to be gained by encouraging dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians and doing everything that we can to promote that,” Steck said. “I don’t think BDS does that. So I do not support the BDS movement. On the other hand, I defend the right of the BDS movement to have their point of view and to speak.”

At present, Cuomo and DiNapoli do not know which firms will be the subject to the executive order. By the end of the year, Cuomo and DiNapoli are expected to develop a list of companies that fit the description. “Companies determined to be engaged in BDS activities may be added to a restricted list that prohibits investment. Any existing fund investment with a company that participates in the BDS movement will be placed under review that will be resolved through engagement with the company or by termination of the relationship,” DiNapoli noted.

The Fund has invested approximately $532 million in Israel-based opportunities, .003 percent of the total fund of $176.1 billion.

“Attempts to harm Israel’s economy can put our investments there at risk,” DiNapoli said. “Israel remains an attractive place to invest and we look forward to finding new opportunities there. We’re putting companies engaged in BDS activities on notice that there will be consequences if their anti-Israel activities expose our investments to financial harm.”

Opponents also claim, if not challenged, the policy of boycotting boycotters by taking actions against groups who do not allow for views that differ from state policies, could be the beginning of a slippery slope.

On the federal level, Rep. Eliot Engel (D – Bronx) spearheaded an effort with Rep Ed Royce (R – Fullerton, Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which Engel is the ranking member.

The Royce-Engel resolution notes that the impact on Israel is a European matter in that the EU remains Israel’s largest trading partner, accounting for one-third of Israel’s total trade.

“European companies have taken measures to restrict business with Israeli companies, raising  the  prospect that they are engaging in politically-motivated acts of boycott, divestment from, and sanctions  against Israel,” the resolution reads.